Weekend racing got off to a hot start Thursday with graded stakes on both coasts providing diversion from turkey and the NFL.
First, the races already in the book. Then, a look ahead at an overflowing cornucopia of racing during the rest of the weekend, with some year-end honors potentially in the balance.
Internationally, Sunday's Japan Cup is more than just a rematch between Orfevre and Solemia.
Let's check it out:
Caixa Eletronica stalked pacesetting favorite This Ones For Phil in Thursday's $150,000, Grade III Fall Highweight Handicap, shot by in the stretch run and won by 4 lengths over that rival. Mine Over Matter finished third despite a stumbling start. Caixa Eletronica, a 7-year-old son of Arromanches, ran the 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.69 carrying 133 pounds, including Javier Castellano. "This horse usually has his own style and sticks to it," said Whit Beckman, assistant to winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "Javier had to stay with him and work hard all the way around. I'd never seen him run like that."
Discreet Marq led all the way to 17-1 upset victory in Thursday's $80,000 Lie Low Stakes for 2-year-old fillies. The Discreet Cat miss scampered the 1 mile on firm turf in 1:37.64 with Eddie Castro riding. The favorite, Heart of New York, finished second.
Afleeting Lady stalked the pace in Thursday's $150,000, Grade II Falls City Handicap for fillies and mares, got to the lead when asked by jockey Joel Rosario and kicked clear, winning by 2 1/4 lengths. Brushed by a Star and Joyful Victory filled the trifecta. Afleeting Lady, a 5-year-old Afleet Alex mare, ran 9 furlongs on a fast track in 1:51.52. "We're going to sit down and decide whether we want to go on with her now or retire her," said winning trainer Dale Romans. "We'll make a decision in the next few days." She has won seven of 20 starts.
Calder Race Course
Kya One raced in mid-pack into the turn in Thursday's $100,000, Grade III My Charmer Handicap for fillies and mares, came out for running room and got the job done, winning by 1 1/4 lengths over Naples Bay. Kya One, a 4-year-old, French-bred daughter of One Cool Cat, raced 9 furlongs on firm turf in 1:47.40 with Paco Lopez up. "At the three-eighths pole I had a good position and then when I pushed, my filly started running hard," Lopez said. "She tried real hard from the mile to the mile and a sixteenth, and she finished strong."
Bob Baffert sent out four of the five starters in Thursday's $100,000, Grade III Hollywood Prevue for 2-year-olds and swept the first four positions in the order of finish. Really Mr Greeley led all the way and posted the 11-1 upset over odds-on favorite Super Ninety Nine. Shakin It Up and Z Big Apple finished 3-4 while Heir Kitty got home last. Really Mr Greeley, a Kentucky-bred Horse Greeley colt, ran the 7 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:22.84 under Julien Leparoux. "I wanted to be on the lead," the jockey said. "He relaxed well and left me alone, which was beautiful, and when I asked him to go he answered nice."
Delaunay hooked up in a three-horse speed duel in Thursday's $100,000 Thanksgiving Handicap, jumped out to the lead on the stretch turn and won by 2 1/2 lengths over Gantry. Cash Refund was third. Delaunay, a 5-year-old Smoke Glacken gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.95 with Rosie Napravnik back in the Big Easy for the ride. "He's a really nice horse to ride," Napravnik said. "He was all push-button."
String King rallied to the lead in the stretch in the $60,000 Mr. Sulu Stakes for state-breds and edged away, winning by 2 lengths over Heavenville. The 4-year-old Crowned King gelding ran "about" 1 mile on firm turf in 1:37.82 with James Graham up.
Bold Affair jumped out to a big lead in Thursday's $100,000 Geisha Stakes for Maryland-bred fillies and mares and won by a comfortable 4 lengths. Catch a Thief was second and Plum finished third. Bold Affair, a 4-year-old Two Punch filly, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:38.81 with Abel Castellano Jr. handling the reins.
Ben's Cat, once a terror on the circuit and a Breeders' Cup hopeful, returned to form in Wednesday's $200,000 Fabulous Strike Handicap, rallying in the final jumps to get home first, a head in front of Immortal Eyes. Poseidon's Warrior was third and the favorite, Il Villano, finished fourth. Ben's Cat, a 6-year-old Parker's Storm Cat gelding, ran the 6 furlongs in 1:09.50 with Julian Pimentel up.
Nicole H drew off in the stretch to post a 3 1/2-lengths victory as the odds-on favorite in Wednesday's $100,000 Daylily Stakes for fillies and mares. The early leader, Winning Image, got place money, with Prize Winner winning third prize 4 1/4 lengths farther back. Nicole H, a 5-year-old Mr. Greeley mare, traversed the 6 furlongs in 1:09.41 under Daniel Centeno.
San Pablo had to fight for the lead in Wednesday's $100,000 Swatara Stakes but once there, the 4-year-old Jump Start colt raced off to win by 4 1/2 lengths. Norman Asbjornson was next best with Isn't He Perfect and Win Willy completing the order of finish. San Pablo, with Christopher DeCarlo in the irons, ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.15.
Foxy Sara stalked the pace in Wednesday's $75,000 Blue Mountain Stakes for Pennsylvania-bred 2-year-old fillies, drove to the lead in the lane and won by 1 length over Kelwynne. Humble Street finished third. Foxy Sara, a daughter of Even the Score, got the 6 furlongs in 1:11.47 under Matthew Rispoli.
Ms. Cruisen' handled a trio of rivals with ease in Tuesday's $75,000 Cornucopia Stakes for fillies and mares, winning by 2 1/4 lengths over Withgreatpleasure. Puddy de Luca was third and Bounding Bi bounded home last. Ms. Cruisen', a 4-year-old Candy Ride filly, completed 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:11.87 with Jose Caraballo riding.
Rolling through the weekend, there's a slew of graded stakes (in this case, a slew equals 19). In a confusing and inconsistent year, some of those easily could have a bearing on year-end honors. At the very least, they will set the stage for the start of next year's racing schedule.
And the change of seasons is officially noted as Churchill Downs winds up its fall meeting and Fair Grounds kicks off its meeting with Thursday's traditional Thanksgiving Handicap.
Sunday's Japan Cup features a rematch between Japanese star Orfevre and the French filly who barely overtook him to win this year's Prix de l'Arc de Triompe, Solemia. But the race has much more to offer than just that set-to, with the likes of Jakkalberry, Red Cadeaux, Gentildonna, Tosen Jorden, Rulership, Mount Athos and Sri Putra in the 17-horse field. The race is 2,400 meters on the grass at Tokyo.
The older horses
Shackleford will be making his final start in Friday's $400,000, Grade I Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs. The multiple Grade I winner finished seventh in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile and will be stretching out past that distance for the first time in a while. Trainer Daley Romans said he considered the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct but elected not to ship. "He's doing good here right now and he likes this racetrack," Romans said. "I think he'll run big and the 1 1/8 miles might be a little easier on him pace wise than the Mile." Nine others are set to test Shackleford, including Pool Play, Take Charge Indy, Cease, Mission Impazible and Bourbon Courage.
Groupie Doll proved in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint she has no peer among her own gender. And so she resurfaces in Saturday's $350,000, Grade I Cigar Mile Handicap at Aqueduct, facing an impressive lineup of six male opponents. Among those are Hymn Book, Stay Thirsty, Jersey Town and Coil. The latter ships cross-country for trainer Bob Baffert after participating in that trainer's Breeders' Cup debacle. As usual, this is a tough heat.
Csaba and Ducduc costar in a field of six for Saturday's Grade III Fred W. Hooper Handicap at Calder Racecourse, a 9-furlong event. Casba, a 3-year-old Kitten's Joy colt, won the Tropical Park Derby over the same course last month. Ducduc was second in the Grade III Spend a Buck Handicap here in his last outing and is cross-entered in the grass stakes on the same card.
Fillies and mares
Saturday's Grade I Gazelle Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Aqueduct has special interest in the person of My Wandy's Girl, who won eight straight in Puerto Rico, then ran the streak to nine in her U.S. debut, the Nov. 15 Pentelis Stakes at the Big A. "Mostly what you see from her you see in her form," said trainer Mike Hushion. "She can run at any distance." Still, Dance Card and Book Review are the morning-line favorites in a field of seven going 9 furlongs on the main track.
Friday's $200,000, Grade II Go for Wand Handicap at Aqueduct is a program-stabber, with four of the five entrants looking capable of prevailing. Willet, Nefertini, Fantasy of Flight and R Gypsy Gold all have credentials and the fifth, Hard Life, is moving up from the allowance ranks.
A nicely balanced field of eight is set for Friday's $250,000, Grade II Citation Handicap at 1 1/16 miles at Hollywood Park. The morning-line favorites are Jeranimo, Ultimate Eagle, Doubles Partner and Data Link. Jeranimo comes off a sixth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Mile -- one of the toughest races of the year. In his last start at Hollywood Park, he won the Grade I Shoemaker Mile. Ultimate Eagle has not raced since finishing 10th in the Santa Anita Handicap this spring but had a series of impressive wins before that. Doubles Partner and Data Link are both multiple graded stakes winners out east, making their first California start for trainers Todd Pletcher and Shug McGaughey, respectively. Interesting.
Ioya Bigtime and Forte Dei Marmi are the early favorites among ten set for Saturday's $150,000, Grade II W.L. McKnight Handicap at 1 1/2 miles over the Calder lawn. Ioya Bigtime, a 5-year-old son of Dynaformer from the Team Block barn, has been racing well in top company all year, including a second-place finish in the American St. Leger at Arlington behind Jakkalberry, who went on to finish third in the Melbourne Cup and is entered in Sunday's Japan Cup. Forte Dei Marmi got home third in a pair of rich Grade I turf events at Woodbine in his last two starts -- the Northern Dancer and the Canadian International.
Boisterous totes the highweight of 124 pounds in Sunday's $100,000, Grade III River City Handicap at Churchill Downs, going 9 furlongs on the green course. After finishing ninth in the Grade I Arlington Million, Boisterous won a pair of graded stakes in New York. His 11 rivals include Stormy Lord, Guys Reward and two from Wayne Lukas's barn -- Optimizer and Skyring.
Sunday's $250,000, Grade I Hollywood Derby is over 10 furlongs of grass at the LAX-friendly track.
Filly & Mare Turf
Sunday's $250,000, Grade I Matriarch Stakes at Hollywood features fillies and mares going 1 mile on the grass.
Nine are set for Sunday's, $150,000 (Canadian), Grade III Kennedy Road Stakes at Woodbine going 6 furlongs on the all-weather track. Essence Hit Man, seldom out of the money and winner of the Grade III Bold Venture Stakes two starts back, totes 124 pounds, giving as much as 9 pounds to his rivals.
Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian), Grade III Bessarabian Stakes at Woodbine for fillies and mares got 11 entries. Roxy Gap, Magic Broomstick and Atlantic Hurricane are among the favorites going 7 furlongs on the all-weather track.
2 year olds
Todd Pletcher has three of the 10 prospective starters for Saturday's $250,000, Grade II Remsen at Aqueduct, including the 2-1 morning-line favorite, Delhomme and an entry of Micromanage and Overanalyze. Vegas No Show and Normandy Invasion also figure in the mix.
Uncaptured heads a field of 13 entered for Saturday's $150,000, Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs. The promising youngster started his career terrorizing rivals at Woodbine, then captured the Grade III Iroquois under the twin spires in his last start -- by 5 1/2 lengths. Positively, runner-up in the Iroquois, is back for more. The field also includes Dewey Square, Frac Daddy and Tesseron.
Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Generous Stakes at Hollywood is run at 1 mile on the turf. Rising Legend is in from England with two straight wins. Den's Legacy finished second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint Preview at Santa Anita. One Firm Cat ran sixth in the same heat.
Emollient is the smooth, even-money favorite among seven in Saturday's $250,000, Grade II Demoiselle at Aqueduct. The Empire Maker filly, trained by Bill Mott, comes off a maiden win at Saratoga. The Todd Pletcher entry of Coconut Shrimp and Unlimited Budget are second choice on the line with Miss Patricia also fancied.
Nine are set for Saturday's $150,000, Grade II Golden Rod Stakes at Churchill Downs, including two-time winner Gal About Town and Broken Spell, who was second in the Grade I Darley Alcibiades at Keeneland before finishing sixth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Many of these will be trying two turns and/or the 1 1/16 miles for the first time.
Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Miesque Stakes at Hollywood (1 mile on the turf) features a pair of promising locals and a small herd from England. Miss Empire, who was third in the Grade I Chandelier Stakes at Santa Anita, then won the Pike Place Dancer at Golden Gate Fields. Flashy Ways won her first two starts, then finished 11th in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. Birdlover is in from England under the care of Doug O'Neill after breaking her maiden at Kempton Park last month. Premier Steps races in England and France, winning once in five tries. Butterfly Lips won at Killarny in Ireland in her last outing. Redress the Balance won her first two starts in England, then ran out in four subsequent tries.